A year on from her Indian Wells title, Tom Jones take a look at the Spaniard’s disappointing
I really like Paula Badosa. Well, I mostly like Paula Badosa. I can like Paula Badosa…but then other
times I ask myself, do I really like Paula Badosa? It’s complicated.
A year ago, I would have said I absolutely like Paula Badosa. I loved her! She had just won Indian
Wells, launching her into the top 10 after an epic win over Viktoria Azarenka in the final in what was
the match of the year on the WTA. She did so with an attractive brand of tennis with awesome
power. She had a very high rally tolerance, could push, could counter-punch or could dictate with
those huge groundstrokes. There was no reason to think she was not going to have a good 2022,
pushing on in the rankings and cementing herself at the top of the game. There was no reason to
think she couldn’t be one of the new stars of the WTA; Spanish, good on both clay and hard courts,
conventionally attractive (with a very hot boyfriend too, mind) and with a good style. It was all
Now, I’m not sure if I like Paula Badosa. With her 2021 Indian Wells points dropping, she sits back
where she was a year ago- on the edge of the top 10. She was the top seed at the WTA1000 in
Guadalajara but her retirement to Viktoria Azarenka means she has not qualified for the WTA Finals.
She will be out of the top 10 and might soon find herself outside of the top 20. Since lifting that
(rather heavy) Indian Wells trophy, Badosa has had some success but now finds herself back right
where she started. How did we get back here? Where did it all go wrong? If I loved Badosa so much
a year ago, how come I feel so conflicted? What is Paula Badosa in 2022?
This year actually started reasonably well for Badosa. She pretty much picked up where she left off
in 2021 winning a WTA500 in Sydney. She looked brilliant, playing the same level and style of tennis
that brought her so much success at the back end of the previous year beating Barbora Krejcikova in
the final. She reached the 4th Round of the Australian Open for the first time, but a combination of
injury niggles, fatigue and Madison Keys sent her out.
She made the semi-finals of Indian Wells in her first big title defence losing to Maria Sakkari in 3 sets.
As far as title defences go, I think this was a very good showing of herself. Sakkari was in a similar
vein of form in March herself entering the top 10 at the tail-end of 2021. I wonder if having her title
defence coming much earlier in the year helped Badosa in the end. She was still in good form going
into a tournament she clearly enjoys the conditions of, even if defending a title far sooner than
normal must be odd. She backed that up with a run to the quarterfinal of Miami but retired early in
that match against Pegula.
She lost in the quarterfinals of Charleston in a 3-setter against Belinda Bencic and made the semi-
finals of Stuttgart losing to Aryna Sabalenka. The latter run got her up to world number 2, a very
impressive achievement even if the top 10 has been chaotic below dominant number 1s in Barty and
now Swiatek. It did also come about with her having two rather big sets of Indian Wells points (title
2021, semi-final 2022), but it is still admirable. Here ends the good results of Paula Badosa, however.
She was taken apart in little over an hour in Madrid- she was a semi-finalist last year- by Simona
Halep. She lost to Daria Kasatkina in Rome. She retired in the 3rd Round of Roland Garros to
Kudermetova. She lost in her first match at Eastbourne to Brit Jodie Anna Burrage who is
comfortably outside the top 100. She actually managed to make a decent run at Wimbledon to the
4th Round beating Petra Kvitova along the way before being destroyed by Simona Halep (again). It’s
been a spell of retirements, plenty of medical timeouts and very bad losses even when fit. Why has it
all gone so wrong?
I think an obvious place to start would be the injury issues which have plagued Badosa all year. She
has had 3 retirements this year and in a fair few of her losses required medical timeouts for various
issues. Even with weeks off the tour, I’ve found she still looks fatigued on her return.
Some of this is probably just the growing pains of a player rising the rankings. When you get into the
top 10, you will find yourself playing more matches and getting further in tournaments. Her body
has needed to catchup with her tennis. However, the concern must surely be that her body is still
not fully caught up even after a very active year on the tour. I do not know if the solution is that
simple, either. These injury issues have plagued Badosa most of her career. She has 27 match
retirements to date, her Azarenka retirement the latest in Guadalajara, almost all of them when
down a set. Things certainly improved with her rise in 2021 and 2022, but we have seen the
retirements more this year once again.
Regardless, that retirement number is staggeringly high especially compared to other players at the
elite level. I think some of it might be skewed by how many of them come when she is losing; so
often she retires in the second set at 0-1, 0-2 or 0-3. There seems to be a bit of a mentality issue
where she gives in quite quickly when things are against her and her body isn’t 100% fit, but even
then, I don’t know how much better the number would be if she retired a few times less. Her fitness,
and or mentality, is a massive concern that seems to be holding her back once more. I’m not sure if a
sudden shift in attitude or change in her physio will fix that.
I do sympathise with Badosa’s position and struggles though because some of it is bigger than her. I
mentioned Maria Sakkari earlier who is another similar example of a player reaching the top 10,
world no.2 also, and now massively struggling. Annett Kontaveit is another. There were several
players who made huge strides forward through 2021- especially the latter part of the year- that are
now on downward turns. The WTA has been extremely volatile since the pandemic, these freak rises
and falls are merely a by-product of that in my view.
You have had a core of top 10 players all fall out of the rankings at once due to various reasons.
Barty retiring, Osaka suddenly dropping in form due to mental health issues, Svitolina and Kerber’s
drops in form and pregnancies. See also Simona Halep and Petra Kvitova. The pandemic rushed a
gradual decline of the old top 10 and rushed the rise of the new. Where previously players like
Badosa, Sakkari and Kontaveit might have sat in the 10-6 positions for a while and settled into their
position at the top they have had no such stability. They have gone from rising underdogs to the
targets of the tour at a remarkable pace and that is very difficult to deal with.
The form of all 3 of these players dropped off for various reasons around April time. They all had
strong form and rises, but by that time they were top 5 players. You have nowhere else to go but
world number 1 and Iga Swiatek wasn’t giving that up any time soon. So, now they must defend
their positions and deal with being the target. None dealt well with it. Badosa was very open about
struggling to play at home being the favourite in Madrid, Sakkari has repeatedly stated she does not
like being one of the best in the world and the pressure on her.
If you look at Badosa particularly, she had nothing but upwards movement right up until the clay
season of 2022. Semi-finals in Madrid last year, a Roland Garros quarter-final, obviously that Indian
Wells run and also the semi-final of the tour finals. She wasn’t defending anything, only gaining
points and ranking places. That to me explains too why she did so well in Sydney and Australia in
part, that good form carrying on at Indian Wells where she has good memories, form and likes the
conditions. Also, the fact that her Indian Wells 2021 points wouldn’t drop until October probably
helped too; there was less immediate pressure on success at this point in the year. I also think
having something to chase still- the world number 2 spot- helped galvanise her in the early portions
of the clay court season. After Stuttgart comes Madrid, playing at home as one of the best in the
world for the first time and now defending lots of points. Pressure on her against a formidable clay
court opponent in Halep who can easily demolish you in the fashion she did.
Badosa is a victim of the topsy-turvy rankings in the top 10 as much as anyone else. In another time
she might be entering Madrid as what, at best world number 5? Far less pressure on her, less
expectation to win and be the one taking home the trophy- more pressure too with Swiatek not
playing the tournament so a chance for the rest of the top 10 to catch up. I think it is interesting that
it was one of those players lower in the top 10- Ons Jabeur, a good friend of Badosa’s in fact- that
won Madrid. The field had dropped like flies in the early rounds, opening up the run for Jabeur but I
hardly think there was the same level of expectation or pressure on her to capitalise on a Swiatek-
less draw in the same way there was for Badosa and co.
So, some of it is out of her control. But I strongly believe the biggest issue and frustration with
Badosa is her game style. Paula Badosa is a pusher. She hits down the middle of the court and looks
for long rallies, winning by outlasting her opponents and waiting for errors. She is far, far too
defensive- especially for someone with her capabilities. Badosa can be more aggressive; she won
Indian Wells and Sydney by playing more to her strengths and attacking. However, she insists on this
defensive play that really isn’t getting her anywhere. Instead of that rise and success in 2021, we’re
seeing epics against players she should, and could, be having no trouble with.
If you are going to be a more defensive player, be that a “pusher” or a counterpuncher, there are a
few things you need that Badosa lacks. You must have a brilliant defence or movement. Look at her
loss to Halep at Wimbledon where the Romanian got to pretty much every ball thrown at her before
winning the rally, or at the way Coco Gauff can glide around the court as arguably the best athlete
on tour. Paula Badosa doesn’t not have a brilliant defence or movement. So often I see her almost
surprised when pushed back by power shots or angles, seemingly struggling to get across everything.
You probably also want very good conditioning and fitness to outlast your opponents. See the
constant chat about Cam Norrie and his enormous lungs for reference here. As we have established,
Paula Badosa does not have amazing fitness- it’s arguably one of her biggest weaknesses.
It is so bizarre and unbelievably frustrating that Badosa actively chooses this game style. It does not
suit her body or her strengths as a player and I think has cost her more often than not. Her aversion
to hitting anywhere but the middle of the court allows opponents to entirely dictate rallies and gets
her overrun. Even counterpunchers like Gauff go on the offensive when needed, the refusal from
Badosa only lets weaker opponents get the better of her. And, again, she won Indian Wells and
Sydney by being aggressive. These are not mysterious options beyond her reach.
I think what I have increasingly realised is that I do not actually like Badosa that much anymore, but
rather I like the idea of her. I like the idea of the awesome power and rally tolerance, giving you a
great sweet spot between the ball-bashers and pushers that you find mingling the top 20 of the
WTA. I fell in love with that version of Badosa back in Indian Wells and with her run at the start of
the year I genuinely thought that would be here to stay.
Instead, however, we are left with this version of Paula Badosa. Who now is determined to hit down
the middle and grind out points. A player who finds herself struggling in matches she should be
winning much more comfortably. What frustrates me most is that I know she can win them more
comfortably. The tools are there, the power never went away; the only thing that has changed is her
willingness to use it.
I fell in love with Badosa’s peak, the best version of herself put forward on the biggest stage to win
the biggest prize. I do not expect the world of her; I am not annoyed she isn’t challenging Iga Swiatek
or winning slams. I did not expect Badosa to become the next great rival or superstar on the WTA,
but I expected more than meek early round losses and retirements from her. I expected her to be
more than just a pusher. Paula Badosa is gifted with amazing power, chose to use it but has since
drifted away to become a shell of her best self. This is what infuriates and disappoints me most.
Paula Badosa was a promising player in the top 10 with power and consistency. She looked like she
was comfortable in her new position at the top of the game. Paula Badosa is now a player on the
ropes as she tries to regain her form and find her spark. She is a pusher with the potential to be
more, forever playing within herself.
Perhaps I keep tabs on her so much and watch her matches out of hope. I still hold optimism that
she might become that Indian Wells Badosa again and rip through draws. Maybe I am just watching
because she is conventionally attractive and has a hot boyfriend- truly the downfall of a bisexual is a
hot heterosexual couple. Either way, I am usually disappointed by the tennis I see and wonder if I am
wasting my time.
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